They say that numbers don’t lie, but Penn State coach Coquese Washington would beg to differ.
If you look at numbers of the Lady Lions’ reserves heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. clash with Ohio State, you wouldn’t think they’re having much of an impact on the games. Aside from former starter Ariel Edwards (8.1 ppg), the other four reserves are averaging about a basket per game.
But to truly judge the value of Gizelle Studevent, Talia East, Tori Waldner and Candice Agee, Washington says you have to look beyond the scoring numbers. She says the play of the reserves has helped the Lady Lions (16-2 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) rip off 10 straight wins and take the conference lead.
“Those guys do a lot of things that maybe don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Washington said after Thursday’s 65-59 win over Minnesota. “Whether it’s talking or communicating, whether it’s being in the right spot on helpside (defense), they just do a lot of things that don’t necessarily show up. I have a confidence in them to go out there to be a factor.”
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The unsung heroes have had a week where they’ve made an impact in two close games.
Studevent, a senior, made three baskets in wins over Michigan (59-49) and Minnesota, but each was key. After Michigan had closed within 47-46, Studevent’s jumper triggered a 12-0 run that closed out the Wolverines. On Thursday, she nailed 2 of 3 shots when Penn State’s offense was struggling against the Golden Gophers.
“She doesn’t take a lot of shots, but she makes the one she takes and she does a great job defensively,” Washington said of Studevent.
“For me I was open,” Studevent said of the big hoop against Michigan. “Co says, ‘Shoot it when you’re open.’ I was wide open and I just shot it. I believe in my shot and I’m glad I was able to help in that way.”
Waldner also has impacted the two games this week, while scoring just one basket. The 6-foot-5 sophomore grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots against Michigan and had four rebounds and a career-high five blocks in just eight minutes against the Gophers.
Despite playing less than 11 minutes per game, Waldner is now tied for the team lead with 21 blocks.
“My role isn’t blocking shots,” Waldner said. “That’s just has come. (Coquese) really wants me to rebound and to be a presence. I’m trying to do that and blocking just happens to follow that. That’s not my goal at all. I’m really there to bring toughness and to help with the posts when they come out.”
And the reserve post players know that they’ll get their opportunities. Because center Nikki Greene is seemingly in foul trouble most games, East (six rebounds against Michigan), Waldner and Agee get action. Each contributes in a different way which is by design.
“Co expects different things from each of us,” Waldner said. “We’re not the same players. She doesn’t recruit the same players. She doesn’t want us to be each other. Talia is a big presence coming in when Nikki has to sit out. I’m coming in to help out with rebounds. We want to do what she needs from us and what the team needs from us. I would say we’re performing that very well.”
Her teammates agree.
“The posts have done a great job,” said forward Mia Nickson. “The blocks, the rebounds, nothing has let up. … It’s great because most times when subs come in, people think they can relax, but they’ve got to guard five people all of the time.”
Studevent said the key is not to be hung up on numbers.
“We know going into the game it’s not always about points,” she said. “You want to go hard and do the things that aren’t always going to show up in the stat sheet. Go hard, play defense, do those kinds of things and the other things will come along.”
And the reserves know that Washington will not hesitate to put them in no matter what the situation.
“For all of us, its fun to know that every game we have to be ready,” Studevent said. “Co needs all of us. We just have to be confident and know that she’s going to call your number and to be ready. That’s the biggest thing — just confidence to be ready for every game.”
Washington will likely need her reserves often today in a game she is very concerned about even though the Buckeyes (11-8, 1-5) are off to their worst conference start ever under Jim Foster.
Washington’s squad will be playing its third game this week, while the Buckeyes have not played since last Sunday’s embarrassing 68-49 loss at Wisconsin. Ohio State has lost twice in overtime in Big Ten play, including an 82-75 triple overtime loss to No. 15 Purdue.
While they’ve struggled away from home, the Buckeyes are 10-1 at Value City Arena.
Penn State leads the all-time series 31-22 overall and 11-9 in Columbus, but those numbers don’t indicate how tough the Buckeyes have been on the Lady Lions during Foster’s reign. Ohio State has won 13 of the last 15 meetings between the two schools, including six straight on its home court.
“Ohio State is a tough place to play,” Washington said. “Certainly with where they are in the conference race they’re going to bring a really strong effort. They have a bye this week, so they’ve had time to kind of refocus and regroup and figure out what they need to do moving forward. I know it’s going to be a tough challenge.”